Residents find many positives in pandemic prompted communication

Hunter Herbaugh
Thursday, December 3, 2020
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Photo courtesy of Penny Zimmerman Penny Zimmerman, top right, uses Zoom for a virtual coffee date with friends (clockwise from bottom right) Cathy Kirkpatrick, Vernone Spencer and Pam McClellan.

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Glendive resident Jim Squires participates in a Zoom planning meeting for the Division E holiday party with Toastmasters from North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana Tuesday night.

Photo courtesy of Jim Squires

One of the most obvious changes that people have had to endure throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is a reliance on virtual communication.

As public safety measures have meant that people have had to stay apart in a lot of circumstances, online tools such as Zoom, FaceTime and GoTo-Meeting have seen greatly increased use and while this separation has been troublesome for many, some people have actually seen how beneficial using this technology can be.

For local resident Jim Squires, having to switch to more wide use of online platforms has shown him just how useful they can be, and how they can close distances more than create them. Noting that he is a member of three different Toastmasters Clubs located across the country, he has been able to see how online communication tools have allowed wide-spread organizations to bring their members closer together.

“...just this past week, I was part of a Toastmasters Club in Missoula, another one in Yankton, S.D.,” he said. “So I’m in all these without even leaving my office. It’s been just wonderful.”

This connectivity has even gone beyond the states, with Squires saying he was even able to take part in contests that have included participants from all over the world with few issues. One of the only real issues he did recall was that there would be a slight delay in some participants’ video feed, meaning their actions lagged behind their words, not quite matching up. Overall however, these have been moments where virtual communication has shown just how useful it has become.

“One contest there were people in South East Asia, all over South America, just a third of the world,” he said. “It’s utterly amazing. I’ve seen contests, I’ve been involved in Toast Masters Business meetings where there were 130 of us present in one meeting.”



Even in other fields, Squires said he has seen how useful technology designed for long distance communication can be. A member of the screening committee at WATCh East, he noted that using technology to communicate has not diminished their ability to screen program applicants to ensure they meet the requirements of the program.

“We just use conference calls, you call into an 800 number or a local number to do our screening for those who are coming into the WATCh program ... we screen virtually every person coming in to ensure they meet the standards and it’s a good investment in their health care,” Squires said.

He has also seen how expanded use of virtual communication tools have affected the business worlds as well. Thanks to his son, who works for a business that operates internationally, he has seen that using technology more often has helped reduce communication costs, as people aren’t travelling long distances to meetings in specific locations and are instead meeting from their individual offices.

Even at a more personal level, Squires has found out how these virtual tools can help him connect with family, as he has been able to use services such as Zoom to stay in contact with his siblings who live in other states.

“Quite a wonderful way to communicate. (One of my sisters) lives in Billings, one lives in Omaha and I live in Glendive. We can get on a Zoom call and bingo, we can be face-to-face,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way for families to connect.”

Squires isn’t the only local resident who has realized how useful these online tools are either. Penny Zimmerman, another local resident, said that she and her social groups have also been enjoying having a way to be together, even though being physically together probably isn’t a good idea at the moment.

“It’s going very well,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman explained her experience with Zoom started with her sister, Sherry Corneliusen, who is the current president of the Montana Federation of Garden Clubs. Due to the pandemic the MFGC has been using Zoom to hold its meetings and, given that most of the local garden club members would be considered high-risk individuals, the local garden club also began meeting via Zoom. Though some members of the club aren’t very fluent with today’s tech, they all eventually managed to get connected. “A lot of us had not done it before and some of our group isn’t real comfortable with all the computer stuff, but we all managed to get on and get it done and have very successful, fun meetings,” she said.

However, it didn’t just stay with the garden club. Zimmerman explained that over the years, she and a group of friends she used to work with have been getting together for coffee once or twice a week to spend some time together. When the pandemic set in, they decided it wasn’t such a good idea to meet in person, so they too switched to Zoom to stay connected.

“We thought we had better be safe so then we Zoomed once a week for several months. Well then we went back to meeting face-to-face over the summer. We’d get our coffee then go sit outside somewhere for a bit, or on our patios. Now this fall, we have gone back to Zoom,” Zimmerman said.

Though the connection isn’t quite the same as being together physically and she does miss some of the things she and her friends would do together, Zimmerman said it has been nice still having a way to stay connected.

“It’s just awesome to connect with friends and visit about what’s important in our lives and keep track of each other,” she said.

Likewise, Squires noted that while virtual connections will never be as good as interacting with people in-person, until the pandemic ends and people feel comfortable around others again, virtual tools are a good alternative and, even before the pandemic, he has been able to form meaningful relationships with people he has met virtually more than in-person.

“You’ll never replace in-person meetings and in-person contact,” he said. “It’s a different level of relationship. The relationship and the bonding is wonderful, it’s just somewhat different.”

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“...just this past week, I was part of a Toastmasters Club in Missoula, another one in Yankton, S.D. So I’m in all these without even leaving my office. It’s been just wonderful,” Jim Squires